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Poetry and the Bottom Line

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Does poetry have something to teach the business world? Simon Bainbridge, a literature professor at Lancaster University, believes it does. For a tidy sum, he takes open-minded entrepreneurs on a tour of the gorgeous Lake District landscapes that shaped William Wordsworth's poetry. But Bainbridge's students aren't just enjoying the view; they're learning how to apply the lessons of Wordsworth's life and works to their businesses.

Bainbridge told the Times Higher Education (which recently featured an article on his unorthodox class) that he sees Wordsworth as something of a management guru for our age. For one thing, Bainbridge believes that Wordsworth demonstrates the value of collaboration. The poet regularly gleaned input from others when writing, most notably from his sister Dorothy and fellow Romantic poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Coleridge, in particular, had a huge impact on Wordsworth's work -- it's often said that Wordsworth was Coleridge's greatest work.

Bainbridge believes Wordsworth's poetry can also teach clients the value of memory and reflection. He explained to the Times:

"There has been a big turn in management studies towards reflection, and Wordsworth is the great poet of reflection. He also has a deep sense of how we are shaped by the past, and how the most challenging moments are often the most developmental."

Bainbridge isn't the first to sell the lessons of great literature to the business world. The Paris-based company Theatre & Management provides customized "Shakespeare in Business" courses that teach nuggets of the Bard's wisdom to corporate clients worldwide. Specific classes -- which actually sound kind of great -- include "The Merchant of Venice and Effective Decision Making," "The Tempest and Managing Resistance to Change," and "King Lear and Succession Planning."

I love that last one. It's safe to say that if you end up betrayed, insane, and with all of your children dead... you did NOT plan your succession well.

As part of each "Shakespeare in Business" course, clients get the chance to perform Shakespearean-style business scripts in costume -- a sure way to, as Theatre & Management puts it, "entertain your colleagues." I can only speak for myself, but I'd rather join Mr. Bainbridge in a canoe out on the lake for a day.